Layoff policy under review

The Richmond County school board is expected to review its "reduction in force" policy for the first time in nearly 20 years, a sign of how dire its finances are projected to be in the coming budget cycle.

The policy, adopted in 1982, sets out procedures for laying off certified employees and the order in which those employees are to be dismissed. Members want to review the policy as preparation for a worst-case scenario.

"We all know that things are going to be bad, but to what degree I don't think anybody knows," said Venus Cain, the chairwoman of the board's human resources committee. "My prayer is that we don't have to lay anybody off." The board won't know its exact financial situation until the General Assembly approves the budget, Mrs. Cain said.

Jack Padgett, the board's legislative liaison, said next fiscal year's budget shortfall could exceed $11 million.

"The whole idea is that we're going to make the cuts somewhere, and I think we're making cuts anywhere we can," he said.

How likely is a reduction in force?

"Personally, I don't see how it can't happen," Mr. Padgett said. "Actual layoffs, I don't know. That certainly is a possibility."

Rightsizing should reap substantial savings, but the process is long and the savings won't immediately be realized, he said. There have also been savings from leaving senior administrative positions vacant.

Board member Joe Scott was an assistant principal at Laney High School in the early 1980s when the board last had a reduction.

"It was a terrible time," he recalled. "People were very upset. They were worried. They weren't sure if they were going to have a job."

"We just need to look at all of our options as we go through the budget process," school board member Helen Minchew said. "Yeah, I think it is dire."

The board last reviewed its reduction policy in 1990. It is expected to be discussed when the board meets for a retreat at noon Feb. 25. The meeting is open to the public.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

HEAVY LAYOFFS SEEN BEFORE

In 1983, 70 teachers were told their contracts would not be renewed, though 37 were able to retain their jobs through attrition, according to Augusta Chronicle reports. Also affected by the budget cuts were 146 physical education teachers, assistant principals, lead teachers, guidance counselors and others who had their jobs declared as surplus.

The school board also reassigned many high school coaches, placing them in teaching positions in elementary and middle schools.